Transport Minister, Lord Whitty, said the measure makes good road safety sense: "We want to encourage cycling as an economic, healthy and environmentally friendly way of getting around. But we also know that pedestrians often feel unsafe with cyclists around. The Highway Code already advises cyclists to ring their bell to make others aware of their presence, but many bikes don't have one. Fitting a bell to all new bikes gives riders the ability to alert other road users, especially pedestrians. That means greater safety for pedestrians and cyclists alike."
Last year the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions consulted on a number of proposals concerning fitting bells on bicycles and now believes mandatory fitting of bells is the way forward, although a further consultation will take place shortly. This is likely to rubber-stamp the proposals which will be enforced by Trading Standards officers using a
revised paragraph in the Consumer Protection Act 1987.
IBDs haven't had to have bells fitted to all their on-sale adult bikes since 1983. The restriction was lifted by the then Tory government, keen to prune unnecessary legislation.
The rule change has been brought about now after a guidedog was struck by a moving cyclist. The guidedog's owner, 63-year old Jan Thorley of Broxtowe, Nottingham, has since lobbied for the compulsory fitting of bicycle bells and was amazed when after just a single meeting with Lord Whitty her plea was acted upon.
Broxtowe MP Nick Palmer championed Mrs Thorley and had been planning a Private Members bill to change the law on the fitting of bells. He said it would cost just 50p to fit a bell on each new bike.
But Ben Bradshaw MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, is dead against the idea: "This is a nannyish measure and will have no impact whatsoever on road safety. A cyclist can't brake and ring a bell at the same time. Having had a bell fitted wouldn't have stopped that cyclist running into the blind lady's dog. The All Party Cycling Group takes the view that it's a dangerous move. The human voice is a lot louder and clearer than a bell and can be used in an emergency far quicker than a bell. In city centre traffic a bell can be drowned out and it would be better to shout a warning to a pedestrian. It's always much more polite to say 'excuse me' to a pedestrian when you want to get past.
"This law won't make people use bells it will just burden retailers, suppliers and customers with an extra expense. Customers can fit a bell if they want one. The type of bells manufacturers will fit to comply with the law will be cheap and they'll rust quickly and be useless in no time. This law hasn't been thought through."
Dr Nick Palmer says there are three types of cyclist. The helpful and aware ones who already have bells fitted; the "cyclo-fascist who wants everybody to get out of his way and who wouldn't use a bell anyway," and the broad majority of cyclists who would use a bell if one was already fitted but who
wouldn't go out of their way to buy one. Palmer a non-cyclist thinks it's odd that anybody could be opposed to such a change to the law. "It's bizarre that cycling groups are against this," he says.
Ian Watson of Cycle World, Sunderland can't see what all the fuss is about either: "I think it's a good idea. A bicycle bell is a very recognisable sound and it will be good for all bikes to be fitted with one."
Some suppliers don't agree. Peter Holton from ATB Sales, the Marin importer, says none of Marin's bikes are fitted with bells. "This bell thing is a publicity stunt, a waste of time. It's not going to stop people buying bikes so it's not worth getting too exited about. I'll worry about it when it happens."
Mark Todd, MD of Raleigh, will have to count the cost of fitting bells to Raleigh's 500 000 bikes and he's critical of the proposal: "I think it's a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I sympathise with this lady's experience but I don't think legislation is the way to go. I think 90 percent of people will
remove the bell when they buy the bike so why bother in the first place."
However, another Nottingham cycle supplier Giant is able to take the moral high ground because they already supply bells with all their bikes, from the kiddy bikes right up to the ATX1. "We're very relaxed about the rule change because it won't affect us. With Giant bikes everything is supplied in the box to the dealer and it's up to the consumer whether they take the bell out of the plastic bag or not."
For a campaign group like Sustrans, anything that makes pedestrians trust cyclists has got to be a good thing and the charity is a keen supporter of fitting bells at the point of sale. Sustrans already offer a bell through their mail-order catalogue but would be happy to see sales of these drop if all bikes came ready fitted with bells.
Sustrans PR officer Richard Tibenham says bicycle bells are good news: "Bells have been associated with bikes for a long, long time, people will immediately associate it with 'a bike is coming'. Sustrans would like people to show consideration to other users on paths or roads. A bell is good, diplomatic tool and the more fitted the better so, yes, we support mandatory
fitting at the point of sale."
But the Pedestrian's Association believes the measure is a cheap sop and won't tackle key issues such as cyclists riding on pavements. Ben Plowden, director of the PA, says his organisation is against any form of shared path use with cyclists which is where a bell may be useful and that if a
cyclist needs a bell to warn a pedestrian about to step off the kerb into the cyclist's path then it should be up to the cyclist to avoid the collision.
From the Association of Cycle Traders point of view legislation is over-kill. ACT president David Wilsher says: "Bells on on children's bikes are absolutely essential but shouldn't be mandatory on adult cycles. It should be an optional thing that a cycle dealer should offer as an after sales item."